Case Study: Managing parent/toddler groups
In this article
Parent and toddler groups provide a great place for parents/carers to form new friendships and experience the support and encouragement from others sharing a similar life experience. They also provide a safe place for children to make friends and to learn and interact with other children. Often, there is a need for children to be signed up beforehand, to communicate with the parents/carers, collect details of support needs, allergies, medical or dietary requirements and to keep track of attendance when the group is running. This case study explores the available functionality in ChurchSuite to administer these different parent and toddler group elements effectively.
Parent and Toddler groups as an event
Adding your Parent and Toddler Group as an Event in your Calendar module gives you a range of options to advertise the group. It can be featured on your website and to those already connected to your church with My ChurchSuite access. It can be promoted through ChurchSuite Connect on a device running at your Information Point at in-person services and events and shared on your social media channels. You might even extend event invitations to known families already in your ChurchSuite Address Book and Children modules.
A customisable Event Page enables you to collect all the pertinent information you need from parents/carers about each child and accompanying parent/carer being signed up. As an event, you can easily manage the event (sign-up) capacity and, where there is a cost involved, add 'pay' tickets to collect payment securely and efficiently - giving each parent/carer a really neat sign-up user experience.
In addition to the essential child details you collect through the Event Page, you may have an interest in obtaining further information from parents/carers. This information could be collected through the Event Page but you may prefer to create and use a separate Parent/Carer Information Form and include a link to that form in your Parent and Toddler Group event sign-up confirmation email. However, with this method, you will need to keep tabs on which event sign-ups have subsequently completed the additional parent/carer information form so you can follow up as appropriate.
One key decision to make when running your Parent and Toddler group as an event is whether you wish to enable sign-up or not. It is entirely possible to set up your Parent and Toddler group as an event, for the purposes of advertising it as described above, but not have sign-up enabled. Those who then arrive for the event can still be checked in, enabling you to keep a record of attendance, but you won't have details beforehand of who is likely to come and there won't be a facility for those attending to pay online prior to arrival. In the context of a weekly Parent and Toddler group, where attendance may be relatively random, you may feel this is entirely appropriate. If you do select to have a sign-up enabled event, you then have access to the features explored below.
Sign-up enabled event: key features
- Invitations - send event invitations to the known families already in your ChurchSuite account.
- Customisable questions - collect all the pertinent information you need from parents/carers about themselves and their toddlers
- Tickets - easily manage event capacity and enable online payment
- Sign-up confirmation email - every sign-up receives confirmation of their place
Let's take a look at some of the event functionality in more detail:
Using event questions to collect pertinent child information
For signup-enabled events, you can add questions to the form to collect all the important information related to your event that you might need. The standard questions can be customised (click Edit), which will be helpful where you want to distinguish the child's name from a parent/carer's name, for example. You can also add further questions (click Add question) and manage the question order (Note: you cannot change the order of the in-built standard questions).
Therefore, when a parent/carer signs up to the event, they are presented with the questions that you, in your context, need answers to in order to run your Parent and Toddler Group in the most effective way. Notice, in the example below, how the questions reflect that it is the child being signed up, with contact information collected relating to the parent/carer - the Name field has been edited to 'Child Name', the Email and Phone fields to 'Parent Email' and 'Parent Mobile number' respectively, whilst additional questions clearly indicate who they refer to. Also, note that specific questions are Required (indicated with a red asterisk) while others are not, allowing a parent/carer to sign up several children without needing to repeat information:
Do consider carefully the question naming convention and question response 'type' used - avoid questions like, "Does the child have any allergies? Yes or No", which may require a second question; instead, perhaps ask "Any allergies?", with a Checkbox response field for the parent/carer to select the relevant options.
There's no limit to the number of custom questions you can add - see the related support article Adding questions to event sign up for further information. However, you may feel that the number of questions you need to ask will make the sign-up form too long. Perhaps, for sign-up, you simply need basic contact details. As long as one of the basic questions is a required parent/carer email address, you may prefer to create a separate parent/carer form and include the form page link in the sign-up confirmation email along with instructions for completing the form. The following related support articles explain Creating forms and how to customise the event signup confirmation email. With this method, you will need to keep tabs on which event sign-ups have subsequently completed the additional form so you can follow up as appropriate.
From an event sign-up or from a custom form, you can easily add new children to the Children module. However, custom forms have the distinct advantage of being able to map (Smart Link) the fields on your form to the respective fields in your Children module, which means that once a form response is linked to a child, you can easily update that child's details from the responses received. The Forms functionality includes other helpful features, such as being able to download a CSV file of responses - ideal if you want a simple way to further order or group responses or perhaps produce a list of those with specific allergies you need to be aware of.
Using tickets where you wish to manage capacity and/or charge for entry
The event sign-up functionality works best when parents/carers of multiple children are required to sign up each child attending your Parent and Toddler group individually, rather than signing up once and simply specifying the total number of children they will bring. You can optionally use Tickets to help manage this. For example, you may charge for your toddler group, to cover the costs of craft activities and so on, but you might charge a lesser amount for additional children, as shown in the example below:
Tickets can be set as Paid (pay online or pay-on-arrival - for pay on arrival you can additionally include payment instructions) or Free and be optionally set to only be available between a specified range of dates. A good use-case example for tickets in this context is where your group meets weekly but you want to ensure that places are booked week by week, rather than all being snapped up immediately. Helpfully, as children are signed up for the event, you can visually see how many of each ticket type has been allocated. The ticket is also shown when using Event Check-In to record attendance.
Where you have a limited capacity for your Parent and Toddler group, tickets can helpfully have a set number. Once that number of tickets has been allocated, no further sign-ups will be possible.
Promoting your event and sending invitation
Having added your Parent and Toddler group event sequence, you'll want to promote it. You will likely want to do this at the beginning of each term and, if you choose to make it a Featured Event, your Parent and Toddler group can be shown prominently on a featured event feed on your website and in the featured event list in My ChurchSuite - you could even embed the event on a dedicated Families event page on your website. You might also share your event on your social media channels or include a link to the event page - there is a handy QR code you can use for this purpose - in a termly newsletter email.
A great feature of the Calendar module is the ability to easily send a personalised invitation to your known parents/carers already in ChurchSuite, making it easy for them to accept or decline on behalf of their child. Since event invitations track the accept/decline response of the prospective sign-up (a child) and a parent/carer may have multiple children, you will need to ensure the Child Email field contains a parent/carer email address so that each child invitation is delivered to their respective parent/carer inbox and so that an "Accept" response creates a child sign-up.
You may already have a tagged list of children you'd like to invite, perhaps created by tagging those who have attended previous Parent and Toddler groups. Tags make it easy to bulk-send to multiple children in a single process.
Once sent, you can keep track of each invitee's response status from the Invites tab of your Parent and Toddler group event - knowing who has declined (and why) may be just as insightful as knowing who has accepted!
Take a moment - inviting child visitors
Event invitations are great for children already in your Children module but have you considered promoting your Parent and Toddler group to your recent visitors listed in the Visitors section of your Children module - perhaps those who have recently checked in as a visitor to your Sunday gatherings via the Child Check-In system? Head into the Visitors section found on the Attendance menu of the Children module. You can use the Advanced Search to further filter the list and use the Send email batch action to communicate directly with their parents/carers, perhaps including a link to your Parent and Toddler group event page:
Using Event Check-In to record Parent and Toddler group attendance
The Calendar module's Event Check-In functionality (which can be run on multiple devices to keep queues to a minimum) enables you to check children in quickly and safely - all you need to know is the child's first or last name - and you can run Event Check-in whether you have previous enabled sign-up or not. Parent and Toddler group attendance data collected through the event check-in page is added to the event in your ChurchSuite Calendar module. Where Sign-up to sequence is enabled, the Check-Ins tab shows a helpful table of attendance for each date in the sequence, giving you some powerful attendance insights for each child. More likely, though, your event will be standalone, so attendance data will be surfaced on a date-by-date basis. You can easily collate that data, if required, by downloading the check-in list each week and combining the resulting set of CSV files. Note that it's not possible to transfer event attendance from the Calendar module to the Attendance section of the Children module.
While it is possible to cancel a Check-In (perhaps if a team member inadvertently clicked on the wrong child), it's not possible to record the check-out time for children at the end of a session. Given that the children will likely remain in the care of their parents/carers, you may not require this information but, if it is something you would like to explore, then see later in this article for further information on running your Parent and Toddler group as a Gathering, which opens up the use of the Child Check-In system for check-in and check-out, as well as badge printing and secure 'team access' to all the pertinent information about the children in their care.
Take a moment - the Parent and Toddler group as an event - pros
- event sign-up is accessible to those who are already in and those not yet in ChurchSuite
- a great sign-up user experience for parents/carers ensures you collect all the important details of each child being signed up
- easy to promote - including personalised invitations
- sign-up capacity can be managed efficiently
- simple sign-up
- easily collect online or at-the-door payment for tickets
- a simple event check-in, accessible by your team from any device with no additional hardware required
- no link between event attendance and the child attendance section in the Children module
- no child check-out process
- no direct connection between the Calendar module event and consent form responses in the Children module
Parent and Toddler groups as a gathering
In this section, we explore the use of the ChurchSuite Child Check-In system, which you may already be familiar with at your weekend services. As with the various age-based children and youth groups that you might have for a weekend service gathering, your Parent and Toddler group can also be set up as a Gathering (in the Groups section of the Children module) and doing so enables you to make full use of the Child Check-in system to record attendance for children (and your team) for each Parent and Toddler group session. You can also quickly gather relevant contact details for those attending your Parent and Toddler group for the first time.
Importantly, the Child Check-In system has a feature-rich Admin Area that gives authorised team members secure access to the details of the children present and their emergency parent/carer contact details, all without needing to give wider access to the full content of your Children module. If ensuring you know when children are checked out of the event is important, then it should be noted that, unlike Event Check-In, the Child Check-In system allows your team to check children both in and out of sessions quickly, plus, if you also use printed badges to match parents/carers to the appropriate child, safely and securely. Your team and parents/carers will especially appreciate this!
A gathering can comprise multiple age-based groups but in the context of a Parent and Toddler group, you can simply add a single group for all the children and set any badge printing preferences and capacity criteria that you may have.
Preparing for Child Check-In
If you have enabled event sign-up, an important consideration is how you'll translate the list of signed-up children stored against the event in your Calendar module into your Children module ready for use with the Child Check-In system. Remember, some of the sign-ups may be known children already in your Children module but others will be entirely new. You can easily filter the event Sign-Ups list to identify those already "In ChurchSuite" and those "Not in ChurchSuite" (using the Advanced search filter shown below).
For children not in ChurchSuite - and subject to your Data Protection Policy, which describes your purpose for processing data and the lawful basis under the GDPR for doing so - you may be able to add new children ( Add child) to your Children module - perhaps tagging them to distinguish them as 'Parent and Toddler children' - or you could Download [the] sign-up list for the 'Not in ChurchSuite' children and then import them as Visitor children to your Children module ready for use with the Child Check-In system.
As an alternative to adding new children from the event Sign-Ups list, if you have used a Parental Consent Form (described earlier in this article), you can just as easily add new children from those form responses:
For children added or already in your Children module (but not for children imported as Visitors), you can optionally add them to the relevant group in the Gathering from the Gathering's 'view' page. Click Add children:
...select the relevant children and then close the pop-up to immediately add those children to the group:
Using the Child Check-In system to check children in
Whilst you may not wish to use badges for your Parent and Toddler group, if you do choose to do so, perhaps to ensure that the correct parent/carer leaves with the correct toddlers, you can customise the child badge to include important information - including the Medical Short, for example, may well help your team when distributing snacks.
The Check-In system can be run in a range of configurations, either at self-check-in terminals or, as is likely to be more appropriate in the Parent and Toddler group context, on devices managed by your friendly welcoming team. You can easily check in visitors, meaning that if you still have available capacity, you can check in children who have not previously attended. If you have an additional information form (as described earlier), you may also need to have easy access to this form to collect full child and parent/carer details; or you could follow up with visitors to complete that task after the session.
Top Tip! Prefer printed registers?
As an alternative to using the Child Check-In system, you may prefer to run a paper-based process using pre-printed registers and badges. You can then manually add the attendance data from the registers to ChurchSuite after each session.
Helpfully, all your Parent and Toddler group attendance can be viewed in the Attendance section of the module and reported on from the Reports section of the module:
Checking children out at the end of a session
The Check-In system Admin Area is packed with useful information about the children in your care and is accessible to authorised team members during each active session. From the Admin area, your team can check children out of the session as well as access important details about a child, like allergies, photo/video consent and parent/carer contact details.
Take a moment - the Parent and Toddler group as a gathering - pros
- Attendance records are maintained, even if a child is deleted from the Children module
- Children attending for the first time can be quickly added to the system as visitors, for follow-up later
- Child Check-in allows badge printing - important medical information and allergies can be shown on a child's badge
- Safeguarded child check-out process ensuring your team returns each child to their appropriate parent/carer
- The ability to store contact details for parents/carers against the relevant child, without the need to add them to your Address Book - important where you wish to be able to communicate with those parents/carers who are not associated with your organisation in other ways
- If using Event sign-up to manage capacity, those not already in ChurchSuite will need to be added to the Children module - either to the Children section of the module or imported as Visitor - for them to be checked in and out of each session for the Parent and Toddler gathering